Virtual Human Interaction Lab – Stanford University

{ Projects: Effect of Avatars in Second Life }

Second Life Screenshot


Students were introduced to Second Life through a 2-hour lecture tutorial. They then created an account for a practice avatar in Second Life and spent a week exploring and becoming familiar with the interface. After completing a pre-questionnaire online, participants were instructed to create a new Second Life account. In Second Life, experimenters gave each participant their assigned avatar shape, L$1000, and a scripted object which would track their online behavior. For each of the subsequent six weeks, participants spent a minimum of six hours actively participating in Second Life activities. At the conclusion of each week, participants completed a web-based questionnaire.

Subjects & Conditions

Participants were undergraduate and masters students who received course credit for their participation. There were 80 participants total, with an average age of 21. Each participant was assigned one of four avatar conditions. In the first group, participants received an avatar body shape that was normal according to Second Life standards, tall and thin. A second group received avatar shapes which were short, but of average build. The avatar shape of the third group was overweight, but of standard Second Life height. For the first 3 conditions, the avatar gender was the same as the participant gender. The fourth group received avatars with normal Second Life avatar shapes and the avatar gender was the opposite of the participant gender. Factors such as major, programming experience, and gender were split as evenly as possible between the four conditions.

Dependent Variables

The collected dependent variables fall into the following four categories: Second Life behaviors, measures of real world behaviors or states, attitudes relating to Second Life experiences, and scales of real life attitudes and traits. Below is a list of representative dependent variables in each of the four categories.

SL Behaviors

  • - Chat
  • - Events Attended
  • - Friends
  • - Group Membership
  • - Money Earned
  • - Changes in Avatar Appearance

Real World Behaviors

  • - Body Type
  • - Hours Spent Online
  • - Social Actvity
  • - Physical Activity
  • - Nutrition
  • - Weight

SL Attitudes & Scales

  • - Trust in People
  • - Presence (self, social, environment)

Real World Attitudes & Scales

  • - Ambivalent Sexism
  • - Big 5
  • - Body Evaluation
  • - Dominance
  • - Physical Values
  • - Self-Esteem
  • - Social Desirability
  • - Social Values
  • - Trust in People


Yee, N., Bailenson, J.N. (2008). A method for longitudinal behavioral data collection in Second Life. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 17(6), 594-596.


Please direct questions about this data to Helen Harris at


Harris, H., Nielsen, A., Bailenson, J. (2008). A longitudinal study of the effect of avatars in Second Life on attitudes and behaviors. Manuscript in progress.